Authorities probe rash of inmate, staff illnesses at Miami’s jail. Smuggled drugs suspected

Inmates, staffers hospitalized at Miami-Dade County Jail

Seven employees at the Miami-Dade County Jail were hospitalized on June 26, 2019 after suffering nausea and dizziness.
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Seven employees at the Miami-Dade County Jail were hospitalized on June 26, 2019 after suffering nausea and dizziness.

The Miami-Dade County Jail is struggling to contain an ongoing wave of illnesses, with a least 17 people rushed to the hospital over the past week and emergency crews at the facility again on Wednesday.

The corrections department and police agencies are investigating, with contraband drugs a chief suspect.

Paramedics had rushed seven inmates to Jackson Memorial Hospital throughout Tuesday after they smoked or inhaled something that caused them to fall ill. Three corrections staff members were also sickened by what was in the air and were briefly hospitalized on Tuesday night, along with four of the inmates.

“It was nauseous and vomiting,” said Miami Fire Rescue spokesman Ignatius Carroll.

A corrections spokesman, Juan Diasgranados, confirmed in a statement that “there is an ongoing investigation into a medical emergency involving several MDCR inmates. ... No further information is available at this time due to the investigation.”

Then on Wednesday, seven jail staffers were hospitalized with the same symptoms as they searched inmate cells for the source of the fumes. A wave of police officers and firefighters rushed to the scene. The staffers were released from the hospital quickly.

Some sort of liquid was found in a cell, forcing corrections to call in the Miami-Dade police bomb squad as a precaution. The mystery deepened on Thursday, however, when the jail said tests had revealed the liquid was “a basic organic compound” and “not harmful or dangerous.

Inmate visitation remained suspended on Thursday as the investigation continued.

The rash of hospitalizations is but the latest example of inmates falling ill at Miami-Dade jails, which have long been plagued by smuggled-in drugs. What kind of drugs, if any, may be involved is unknown.

The introduction of deadly fentanyl and its synthetic variants — which can be up to 50 times more powerful than heroin — have wreaked havoc at the jails.

Lieutenant Amaury Perez of the Metro West Detention Center demonstrates a new body scanner coming to correction centers across Miami-Dade aimed at preventing contraband on Tuesday, June 12, 2018.

Last year, a pair of inmates were indicted on murder charges after two fellow inmates died of fentanyl overdoses inside the main jail, also known as the Pre-Trial Detention Center, 1321 NW 13th St. In an unrelated case, a third inmate died of an overdose death at the Turner Guilford Knight Correctional Center in February 2018.

The long-troubled corrections system, which remains under federal supervision because of shoddy conditions for inmates, responded by installing high-tech body scanners to check for inmates suspected of hiding contraband on their bodies. The scanners, by law, cannot be used on corrections officers.

Last fall, a longtime Miami-Dade officer was arrested on allegations that he received illegal payments to bring in at least one phone and contraband fast food into the Metro West Detention Center. He has pleaded not guilty and is awaiting trial.